Gov. Mark Dayton struck out millions of dollars in disputed funding for Metro parks before signing the new Legacy budget into law.
"This decision is extremely difficult for me," Dayton wrote in a letter to House and Senate leaders Thursday. "I attach great importance to keeping my word. Unfortunately, in this instance, I have given contradictory assurances to legislators during the past few days and to thousands of Minnesotans during the past few years. I have decided that I must honor my promise to those citizens."
The $494 million Legacy omnibus pitted lawmakers against the state's Outdoor Heritage Council and other groups. Lawmakers voted to steer $6.3 million to the Metropolitan Council for grants to restore and endangered habitats and another $3 million to battle aquatic invasive species, even though those projects had not been vetted by the council.
The merits of the projects weren't in question, but the way they found their way into the bill brought sharp criticism from outdoor and sporting groups, who feared the Legislature would begin loading future Legacy bills with pork projects.
In a letter to the governor, council member Ron Schara warned: "Funding the metro parks project in this way would set a very bad precedent. Instead of competing before the Council, special interests will bombard the Legacy legislative committees with projects that waste taxpayer dollars and we will end up with one big pork bill. If you do not put things right, the sportsmen will never again believe that it is in their interest to support a tax raise as a way to fund outdoor habitat programs. As the pressure on outdoor habitat increases and the funds dry up, we will all lose."
Dayton said he only agreed to allow the disputed provisions into the final version of the Legacy bill in an effort to break an end-of-session deadlock between House and Senate negotiators.
"At the time, I hoped that the thousands of Minnesotans, who are deeply committed to the work of the Lessard-Sams Council, would accept our compromise," Dayton wrote. "Since the bill's passage, however, I have heard from many organizations, representing thousands of citizens, who believe my approval of those two items would betray the promises I have made repeatedly during the past four years to respect the council's decisions."
Dayton noted that Metro parks are already $65 million from the Legacy bill, which also includes more than $18 million to deal with aquatic invasive species.
How do you thank Minnesota taxpayers for a half-billion dollar gift?
Mayo Clinic does it with balloon bouquets, hand-lettered thank-you signs, and a choreographed cheering section.
"DMC! DMC!" happy Mayo staffers chanted Wednesday, after state lawmakers signed off on a plan to support Mayo's new Destination Medical Center project with some $585 million in state and local tax support over the next three decades. The cheers got louder as Gov. Mark Dayton and state lawmakers took the stage in Rochester to accept the thanks.
Dayton said passage of the "enormous, almost unprecedented" development project a "glorious day" for the state and the community. Other massive spending projects, like the Vikings stadium, took years, but the half-billion dollar Mayo bill passed in the space of a single session
"What a great day," said House Speaker Paul Thissen. The fact that the Legislature was able to sign off on such a massive project so quickly, he said, proves that "people working together and a community working together with the state government can actually accomplish something. I think that was a hallmark of what this last legislative session was about."
The Rochester celebration also drew Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk -- "What a difference an election makes," he told the crowd -- House Majority Leader Erin Murphy and members of the local delegation, including Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, and Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, who was the only Republican to vote for the Destination Medical Center plan after it was wrapped into a $2 billion tax bill.
The Mayo funds, wrapped into a $2 billion tax bill, will steer $585 million to Rochester to support infrastructure improvements around the new downtown development. The state will chip in $372 million over the next 27 years, but only after Mayo, the city of Rochester and Olmstead County make substantial investments of their own. Mayo has pledged billions to the project — $3.5 billion of its own money and another $2 billion in private investments.
"We're the land of 10,000 lakes and 14,000 physicians," joked Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, who guided the Mayo bill through a rocky session. "I am so excited to see what happens next."
What happens next will be decided over the next few months. The Destination Medical Center's new governing board will come together and begin deciding which projects will be built first. No state tax dollars will flow until at least $200 million in private investment have been poured into the project.
The to-do list includes everything from expanding the Mayo campus to upgrading the downtown with new hotels, restaurants and cultural attractions.
The Mayo bill took a beating from skeptical lawmakers, particularly after Mayo CEO John Noseworthy warned that if Minnesota didn't come up with the money, there were 49 other states that would be happy to open their doors to Mayo. Dayton rose to Noseworthy's defense Wednesday.
"You got criticized unfairly for this. I get criticized unfairly by the Legislature every day" Dayton said. "But there are 49 other states that would really love to have this opportunity." As the crowd in the Mayo lobby applauded and laughed, he added, "It's the truth. We are incredibly fortunate to have Mayo here."
Noseworthy thanked lawmakers for doing what many thought could not be done -- passing the expensive, complex Destination Medical Center financing bill in a single session. And since the Legislature came through for Mayo, he said, Mayo plans to stay right here in Rochester.
"It's a great day to be a Minnesotan, a great day to call Rochester our home," Noseworthy said. "Based on this legislation, Mayo Clinic is prepared to invest in Minnesota, where we've been for 149 years, and now we'll be even stronger, for generations to come."
In the final hours of the legislative session, the Minnesota House and Senate passed a scaled-down bonding bill.
With just hours to go before the midnight end of the session deadline, the House began debate on a bill that will fund $176 million worth of projects around the state. Those projects include repairs to the aging State Capitol, flood mitigation efforts and the next stage of a major expansion for the Minnesota Veterans Home in Minneapolis.
"We will get thouands and thousands of construction workers off the bench" with this bill, said Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 121-10 Monday evening. Minutes later, the Senate took the bill up without debate and passed it 57-6.
An $800 million bonding bill failed in the House last week. The Senate proposed a much smaller version, with only enough money to repair the Capitol and build a new parking structure. The House refused to concur with the Senate's proposal, but after a tense daylong standoff, it rolled out a bill of its own.
The new bill includes $109 million for the Capitol renovation, $22 million for the new parking garage, $20 million for flood mitigation, $19 million for the Minnesota Veterans Home in Minneapolis, which needs state backing for the next stage of a major renovaiton and expansion of its facility.
Capitol administrators had warned that if repair funding fell through this year, the project would have been set back two years, at a cost of millions more to the state.
"Our beautiful Capitol can finally get the long-term commitment it deserves," said Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City. "For years, its needs were shoved aside by politics, misplaced priorities and tight budgets. Tonight we rise above all that to do something right for the People's House. This building has no lobbyist to shill for it. It has us, and we must not let it down."
Over the weekend, heavy rains flooded one of the tunnels under the Capitol, highlighting the 108-year-old building's deteriorating condition.
"This Capitol is a 108-year-old building that's an iconic building for the state of Minnesota, but it is at its tipping point," Ward said. "Unfortunately, we saw some of that this week."
But for every project that made it into the final bonding bill, dozens more were cut, to the dismay of some lawmakers.
"What concerns me is what's not in this bill," said Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul.
His district was counting on the bonding bill to save a magnet school in his district. Crosswinds School, an arts and science school for children in grades 6-10, was hoping for bonding authorization to turn governance of the school over to the Perpich Center for the Arts.
"Unless we act, that state asset, which was built to educate kids of the East Metro Area in an integrated setting, is going to get mothballed," Mariani said.
Ward said the House had to disappoint a lot of communities to put together a bill that could pass on short notice.
"There's a lot of things in this bill that people are missing, from every corner of this state," Ward said. "From wastewater to ther veterans to roads and bridges to higher ed....When it gets down to the end of the session and you're still trying to do something good for the citizens of Minnesota, you do lose some stuff."
"While my heart aches for that facility," he added. "This is what we could come up with."
With just hours left in the session, and major bills still in limbo, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk fired a shot across the House's bow.
A video, posted by the nonpartisan Senate Media Service, went up on YouTube Monday evening, showing Bakk pointedly wondering when the House planned to send the Senate the tax and bonding bills. The legislative year ends at midnight.
The Senate DFL Caucus gleefully reposted a copy of the video on its own site, but yanked it down almost as quickly. The bonding debate in the House began shortly afterward.
The video shows an exchange between Bakk and Minority Leader David Hann, both pointedly wondering why there had been no messages from the House, as of 6:30 p.m., about pending legislation.
"We're waiting for the House to send us the tax bill," Bakk says in the minute-and-a-half-long video. "We sent them the bonding bill last night...They made a decision not to concur with the Senate, but what's interesting is that they didn't appoint conferees and send a message back to us."
The bonding bill is a sore spot between the DFL-controlled House and Senate. The House tried, and failed to pass an $800 million bonding bill last month. But some House members balked when the Senate sent a scaled-down $132 million bonding offer of its own to the House Sunday night.
With just hours to go before the end of the 2013 Legislative session, Democratic leaders are trying to hammer out a deal to fund repairs on the roof over their heads.
A $800 million bonding bill that would have funded $109 million in repairs and upgrades to the century-old State Capitol -- and many other infrastructure projects around the state -- failed to pass the House last week. Late Sunday night the Senate offered a compromise, whittling the bonding bill down to $132 million, just enough to fund repairs and a new parking structure at the Capitol.
But House Capital Improvement Committee Chairwoman Alice Hausman, who spent months putting together the original bonding bill only to see it fail to get enough Republican votes to pass, has her doubts that even a pared-down bonding bill will fare any better with GOP members.
"Clearly now it's a very small bill. I'm not happy about that, but I'm a team player," said Hausman, DFL-St. Paul. "But we need the minority party to agree to anything, eight people."
Bonding bills require a supermajority to pass -- which means eight House Republicans would have to back the pared-down bill. Only three supported the $800 million bill, with the rest of the caucus voting to wait until 2014, the traditional bonding year in the Legislative cycle.
Hausman said she also has reservations about prioritizing repairs to the Capitol over all the other projects that would have been funded by the bonding bill.
"It's hard for me to say it's more important than absolutely all other infrastructure, including higher education and housing," she said, noting that other projects in her original bill, including new campus facilities at the Minnesota Colleges and Universities system, have been on the bonding waiting list for years. "Higher ed is always the most important part of a bonding bill. That is our future... And it's a little hard for me to give up housing, when I think we're restoring this building, the People's House, when at the same time 25 percent more people have no house."
The Legislature has until midnight to finish its work for the year.